The State of Black Music and Beyond: Where’s the Music? By Kendall A. Minter, Esq.

For the baby boomers among us, you may recall the days when we listened to music on vinyl discs: first 78 rpm, then singles on 45 rpm with albums and 12” singles on 33 rpm vinyl discs. It was cumbersome and required a bulky phonograph-record player to listen to our favorite songs. For a short spell, some enjoyed their music on eight-track tape cartridges (equipment that seems like dinosaurs today).

Then came the evolution in listening with the birth of the cassette tape. More portability, but still vulnerable to breakage and the tapes getting jammed up in the cassette player.

In 1982, in a small factory outside of Hanover, Germany, the compact disc was introduced to the world by Phillips and Sony. The evolution of the CD marked the technological transition from analog to digital sound and a whole new experience in audio. Sony manufactured the first CD player, which sold for a not so modest price of $1,000 U.S.

CDs enjoyed a good 20-year run, with more than 200 billion CDs sold before digital technology began to improve with the introduction of the MP3. Enter Apple Music and iTunes.

Now a household name, Apple’s Steve Jobs presented the idea of a centralized digital music library to record label executives—one that could be sold and downloaded to a customer’s personal computer or mobile device. The concept was an immediate hit that we call the iTunes store.

In 2000, global sales of albums peaked at an all-time high of 2,455 billion. But by 2006, with CD sales on the decline, global album sales dropped by 28.5% to 1,755 billion. That slide in sales and revenue has continued while sales of digital downloads have climbed. The rise of digital downloads has been propelled by the explosion of mobile devices (i.e., cell phones) and digital music stores (such as iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, Rhapsody, 7digital and eMusic). In 2011, sales of digital downloads officially outpaced physical CD sales as consumers made it clear that they preferred the portability and audio superiority of downloads over CDs.

One thing is certain—technology evolves. For the music industry and its global base of music lovers and fans, that meant the transition of music listening and consumption from digital downloads to streaming.

Many music industry insiders are concerned that the traditional music industry is going “out of business,” but the reality is that music consumption is at an all-time high with consumers preferring to “stream” their music through a vast landscape of online streaming services. That landscape includes Pandora, SiriusXM, Deezer, Spotify, Tidal, iTunes Radio, Google Play, Last.FM, GrooveShark and thousands of other sites as well as the online websites for terrestrial FM radio stations.

The huge challenge for the music industry and content creators is that the consumer shift from downloads ($.99 - $1.29 for a single and $9.99 for an album) to free or paid streaming subscriptions (averaging from $4.99 - $19.99 per month for access to catalogs consisting of millions of songs) has decimated the revenue and balance sheets for those who create and invest in the production of music. Inevitably, the survival and health of the music industry is going to hinge upon the ability of all of those who create, produce, market, sell, download, stream, listen and enjoy music to respect the (intellectual property) rights of the creators, labels and music publishers. The goal is to fairly compensate those individuals and companies and provide ample resources to invest in and support new music and balance the value of music in the world of new technology.

Where is the music? It’s everywhere. It’s on the radio, in virtually every movie and TV show, in the malls, at basketball, football, baseball and soccer games, opening NASCAR races, in the clubs, in restaurants, at amusement parks, on airplanes, on the farms hosting EDM festivals, in cars, in headphones. Music is global. It’s the soundtrack to our lives and it is truly everywhere. Respect, protect and support the art.

Kendall A. Minter, Esq., is the Managing Member of Minter & Associates, L.L.C., an entertainment, intellectual property and new media law firm with a global clientele. Kendall is a member of the board of directors of SoundExchange, a founding board member and former Executive Director of the Black Entertainment and Sports Lawyers Association, a founding Director, former Chairman and current Chairman Emeritus of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation and is a Director and General Counsel of the Living Legends Foundation. He is also an instructor in copyright and music publishing at Georgia State University.

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